One suffered a serious injury last year and is expected to be the No. 1 receiver, one is replacing the anchor of the defense over the last two seasons, and one has his eyes set on shattering every Kentucky record at his position this season.
All three are major storylines going into 2018, and the Kentucky coaching staff addressed each of them at last week’s UK Football Luncheon in Lexington.
Dorian Baker sat out the entire 2017 season with a fractured left ankle, but Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran says the star receiver is back to playing at full speed. And with him back in the fold, the younger wideouts on the roster now have a veteran leader to look to as a role model both on and off the field.
“I love where he’s at right now. He’s full speed, you always have to say “Woah” to Dorian, not “giddy-up,” Gran said. “He goes full speed all the time, and that’s what you love about him. I think that’s going to really help our guys, especially that (wide receiver) group now that Dorian is back.”
Baker has managed 89 receptions, 1019 yards, and six touchdowns in three years as a Wildcat. He had a bad habit of dropping balls early in his career, but there are whispers within the program that he has easily been Kentucky’s most dominant receiver in practice sessions thus far. Fall camp starts this week and we’ll be able to ask the coaching staff and players more about that then.
When asked about another major offensive piece, superstar running back Benny Snell, Gran said the junior’s never-ending drive and passion for the game separates him from other elite backs he has coached over the years.
“He’s just an old-time football guy,” Gran said. “He’s just one of those guys that loves the game. Players always come in and they say, “Coach, why am I not playing?” The answer for me is always, “Make me play you. Make us play you.” You turn on the film and watch him in practice, and he’s just full speed all the time. He made sure when he came in that he understood the offense, and that’s how you do it. He’s big, physical, can catch the football, and he loves the game.”
After rushing for 2424 yards and 32 touchdowns in his first two seasons, there’s no question he has the ball-carrying aspect of his game down. Snell has only caught 12 balls for 111 yards in his short Kentucky career, but if Gran can add that new dimension to the offense, it will be helpful to not only Snell’s draft stock, but the team’s overall success.
On the other side of the football, Courtney Love is no longer with the program in a playing role, but he has been brought on to the coaching staff as a graduate assistant. With Love gone, junior linebacker Kash Daniel is set to take over the starting job, where Mark Stoops says he has been a workhorse in the gym.
“We’re very pleased with what we see out of Kash,” Stoops said. “He’s another one that you have to say “Woah” to, he goes hard all the time. If there’s any problem with him, it’s that he overtrains. He’s working his tail off this summer, to the point where, Lord knows I don’t get as many workouts in as I need to, but when I’m in there, he’s in there. And that’s aside from his normal scheduled workout time.”
Though it pains Stoops to see Love hang up his cleats as a Wildcat, he’s happy he has a starting linebacker this season that understands it’s his time to shine.
“We really like the passion he plays with, that energy, that commitment, you can’t take that away from him,” Stoops said of Daniel. “He’s much more comfortable out there. In the spring, you saw him take a charge… He has played a lot of football… He knows it’s his time. There are players behind him pushing him, but he’s not going to let that happen.”